Thursday, July 21, 2011



Sometimes I feel bad for Illinois. It has had some issues with its state government -- cough -- that have prevented it from coming to grips with, say, a catastrophically underfunded public employee pension system, or with the reality of biweekly paychecks.

That said, its recent proposal to use student aid as an incentive for transfer students to start in community colleges is intriguing.

The idea seems to be that tuition at community colleges is much lower than at four-year colleges, so students who enroll first at cc’s leave financial aid money on the table. The state is considering sending some of that money to students as a reward for saving the state money. In essence, it will let students apply the excess to the third and fourth years of college, thereby reducing their eventual loan burdens.

I’ll give the idea two cheers.

The first cheer, obviously, is because students who are in tough financial shape will get some money to help them along. And the second is for belated and welcome recognition that community college’s aren’t just in the business of workforce training or remediation. To the extent that the state knits the various elements of higher education into a coherent system, complete with well-specified paths for successful transfer, I see a real (and affordable) gain for the state.

But I’m concerned that directing ever-more enrollment to the community colleges, while directing money to students instead of institutions, will squeeze quality even more. That’s because community colleges charge students far less than what it costs to educate them. Add more students without adding more state aid -- in fact, I could see this program actually adding to the pressure to keep tuition down, making the squeeze even worse -- and the shortfall will come out of service delivery.

IHE recently had a wonderful article detailing the efforts to which colleges are struggling just to keep up with the ever-increasing and ever-changing financial aid compliance rules. Every time the feds change the rules, local resources get diverted from quality improvement to keeping the feds happy. (We recently added staff to the Institutional Research office, hoping to finally get ahead of compliance-driven reporting and actually move to evidence-based decisionmaking. Then the feds changed rules again and hoovered up the new person’s time. Thanks, guys.)

I could see the Illinois program doing something similar to the community colleges. In the absence of a serious and sustained increase to operating funding, new programs like these divert resources from already-existing programs.

I”d like to be wrong on this one. I’d like to hear that this new policy is just a small part of larger policy of appreciating community colleges as the linchpins of public higher education that they actually are. I’d like to hear that we’ll move to per-student funding parity with the four-years, sustainable and predictable budgets, and a new sense that people with money and choices would choose community colleges deliberately.

But I”m not holding my breath on that. So two cheers for Illinois. To use language they’ll recognize, the jury is still out on the third.

1) Correction: They will give ALL of the money saved (which includes the difference between the room and board allowance as well as tuition) to those students for their 3rd and 4th year, but only to a select group of students eligible for aid at a CC. Read the program description carefully and look at the example given in a linked chart.

Our state already gives a bonus to students who choose a CC over a university in our state scholarship program, but that only goes toward tuition.

2) It is time to throw away your throwaway line about "community colleges charge students far less than what it costs to educate them". Illinois isn't California. It took me less than 10 minutes to find the tuition at Shawnee CC ($92 per credit hour) and get lucky finding the salary schedule for every CC in the state. Shawnee CC pays adjuncts $450 per credit hour and faculty $600 per credit for an overload, so they are clearly able to cover marginal costs (both salary and other expenses) with student fees.

I'll awaken my moribund blog later today and elaborate on this and some of the MAJOR advantages and disadvantages in this system versus what I thought it was based on DD's necessarily short summary and what I read above the paywall at the Chronicle.
Hmm. It's a good proposal for a pilot. It's probably not going to apply to enough students to break the CCs, and most of the ones it brings will be motivated and in general ed classes and thus hopefully not particularly expensive.

That said, the way they pair the CCs with the 4-years makes sense from the perspective of the 4 year institutions, but it definitely makes things less useful for the students. Even though I started at a CC in Illinois and ended up at a 4 year, I would never have taken advantage of this program. I mean seriously- who applies to Governors State University coming out of high school? (note for everyone: Governors State University is the other half of CC- it's a place that does not do the first two years of undergrad, just the second two years and some master's degree programs)
Gott in Himmel, $1k to teach a class?

How can you possibly still have a financial crisis when you're paying less than minimum wage?
My thoughts also, Punditus. True, it is a VERY small community college in a very rural area at the southern tip of Illinois, but I don't see how you can afford to commute there to teach if you were, say, a grad student at Southern Illinois.

But that is what it is, and I decided to stick with it because they were featured in the Chronicle.

If you look at the pay document that is part of my long article about this subject, you will see quite a range in the part-time pay rates in Table 5 across the state. And they aren't even the lowest!
Just that meager salary.
How can you possibly still have a financial crisis when you're paying less than minimum wage?
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